Saturday, December 28, 2013

Choices and Consequences for the Republican Party

The Republican Party has made a number of choices in recent years. Some of these choices are structural, others are simply cultural and economic. But all of these choices have had consequences for the composition of the Party and its competitiveness in national elections.

1. Political Gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering legislative districts can vastly increase the power of a political party in the legislature, but there is a price to be paid in general elections. It is no accident that Republicans control the House of Representatives but have lost the Senate and the Presidency. Republicans can win office in gerrymandered districts and control the House with a minority of the American vote. When the only electoral threat that Republican Congressmen face is from primary opponents who may be more conservative than they are, they have no incentive to compromise or move to the center of the political spectrum. Gerrymandering has pulled the Republican Party more and more to the right, to the extent that it is not clear that the Party can nominate anybody for the Presidency who can attract the votes of sufficient numbers of Independents and Democrats.

Gerrymandering is morally wrong as well. It is not right that a minority of the people should be able to control the legislative policy of the nation. Those who wield power because of cheating know in their hearts that they do not have a mandate from the people. This saps their will to undertake new initiatives, and explains in part why this Congress has been the least productive in American history.

2. Billionaire Financing.

The Democratic Party is funded by millions of individual donors. The Republican Party depends for much of its financing upon about a dozen billionaires. This makes the Republican Party dependent upon those few people, and it must hew to their views and protect their interests.

3. Religious Extremism and Demonizing Opponents.

Republican electoral strategy has, to an ever greater extent, focused on hatred. Immigrants are vilified as criminals; gays are depicted as pedophiles; lower income people are called "takers" who do not assume responsibility for their lives; liberals are characterized as unpatriotic, decadent elitists. The truth is that people are people. Immigrants and "native" Americans, gays and straights, poor and rich, liberal and conservative are all as law-abiding as the average person; they love this country to the same extent; they take the same amount of responsibility for their actions; and they are basically as kind and loving in their treatment of other people. Aside from certain material considerations our daily lives are similar regardless of party affiliation. Our political outlook has no effect on our character, reflecting the full spectrum of human potential for good and evil.

The demonizing of the opposition has arisen partly because the Republican Party has recruited and now relies upon the political support of religious conservatives, and as a result the Party has embraced the rhetoric of religious extremism: abortion is "murder," gay sex is an "abomination," and women who use birth control are "sluts." Republicans must find the courage to denounce those within the Party who promote these views.

4. Governmental Obstructionism.

Never before in my lifetime -- never before in American history -- has the political party in opposition to the administration utterly refused to confirm appointments to high office. The unbroken tradition was that once the President was elected, regardless of which party controlled the Senate, the President was permitted to choose the persons whom he wished to direct the operations of the government. Now, however, Senate Republicans take the position that if Republicans can not control the Executive Branch, then the Executive Branch should not operate. As a result the filibuster is now dead.

The Hastert Rule -- the practice that no bill will be brought up for a vote in the House unless a majority of Republicans intend to vote for it -- similarly represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how democracy is supposed to work. The framers established a government based upon the proposition that all men are created equal. That is the philosophical underpinning for the principle of majority rule -- that each and every citizen has an equal say in our society. The Republican Party does not represent all Americans, and it should not arrogate to itself the power to speak for all Americans. Let the representatives of the majority of the people decide what our laws and policies should be, and keep in mind that for a democracy to work the opposition must conduct themselves as the "loyal opposition."

5. Opposition to Universal Health Care.

For decades both political parties supported the concept of Universal Health Care; they only disagreed about how to achieve it. Republicans proposed to reach this goal by having the government subsidize the purchase of private health insurance, while Democrats preferred to have the government pay medical providers directly. For example, Republicans such as Paul Ryan have proposed that Medicare should evolve into a "voucher" system, under which each beneficiary would be given government funding to purchase health insurance. This is essentially what the Affordable Care Act does for low-income people under the age of 65, and it was championed by George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Orrin Hatch, Newt Gingrich, and many other Republicans.

Until now. In their opposition to President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party has abandoned the goal of providing access to health care to all Americans. From the standpoint of relieving human suffering this is unfortunate; from a political standpoint, it is self-defeating. At this point in our history one might as well oppose the building of highways or the operation of public schools. Our society can afford universal health care; every other industrialized country has it; and it is certain that we will adopt it in one form or another. It is time for the Republican Party to get back on board.

6. Violent Overreaction to the War on Terror.

9/11 was a horrible shock to this country. The American homeland had not been attacked since December 7, 1941. It was both necessary and proper to respond to the threat by wiping out al Qaeda and its supporters the Taliban.

But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Saddam Hussein, although a murderous dictator, was as much the enemy of al Qaeda as we were. And under Sunni rule Iraq was a counterpoise to the power of Shiite Iran. One is grateful that the Shiite majority in Iraq is no longer under Saddam's vicious rule, and one hopes that the Iraqi people will be able to forge a unified, peaceful, democratic nation. But it was an unnecessary and costly war, one that we shall be paying for for decades.

And torture is evil -- pure evil. After WWII we rightly executed Nazis and Japanese officers who carried out crimes of torture on American prisoners. In the Civil War under the direction of Abraham Lincoln the United States adopted the Lieber Code, and in the beginning of the 20th century under the leadership of the United States the world adopted the Geneva Convention. The actions of the CIA against the prisoners in the War on Terror devolved our civilization 500 years to the Star Chamber. If Arab prisoners can be tortured by our government, anybody can be tortured in the name of the greater good.

The American people want this country to live in peace with other nations and they do not want agents of the American government to commit war crimes in our name.

7. Devotion to Laissez Faire Economics.

There must always be a careful balancing between too much and too little government regulation. Too much regulation stifles innovation and strangles enterprises. Too little leads to the deaths of miners, the exploitation of workers, the defrauding of consumers, and the collapse of markets. The economic collapse of 2008 should serve as a warning to the Republican Party -- never again! Ideological opposition to all government regulation -- the worship of Ayn Rand -- is a self-destructive path.

8. Refusal to Tax the Super-Wealthy

In recent decades the dominant forms of wealth have changed. People still own homes, farms, and businesses -- physical objects and enterprises. But the principal form of wealth is now financial wealth, and this kind of wealth in concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller percentage of our society.

These people are not "job creators." They do not own businesses they are planning to expand. They own stocks, bonds, and a variety of other investment products. And they have manipulated the Republican Party so that its principal purpose seems to be to reduce the taxes on this small class of persons.

I will assume for the sake of argument that persons with great financial wealth play a useful role in society and that their accumulation of wealth is justified by their contributions to the common good. But the fact is that this group can easily afford to pay more -- a lot more -- for the privilege of living in this wonderful country. And they should.

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